America is not the only English-speaking country that is wrestling with questions of immigration and diversity. UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced that multiculturalism in his country was "bankrupt". This not only delighted the British right wing, but put him in the uncomfortable position of being praised by none other than the daughter and political successor of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the notorious French far right nationalist, who has often been accused of anti-Semitism and bigotry toward all minorities.
In 2004, a British journalist, David Goodhart, published an article in The Guardian called "Discomfort of Strangers", in which he made clear that certain types of "strangers", namely Asian, African and Muslim immigrants, made him feel quite uncomfortable indeed. Not content with attacking immigrants in Britain, Goodhart's article also took some gratuitous shots at Hispanics and African-Americans in the US. This past week, he repeated some of thse same sentiments (minus the comments about America) in the Financial Times ("A cap on immigrants will fit business nicely", March 28).
Goodhart's basic premise is that there is a distinction between societies based on "solidarity", (which in the case of Britain means the white population) and "diversity", which, of course, means a society that includes everyone else. For various reasons, he argued that a society based on "solidarity" functions better.
This type of anti-immigration rhetoric based on ethnicity, or as some like to call it euphemistically, "culture", is hardly unknown in the US. In the 1990's, Peter Brimelow, another Briton, but one based in the US, wrote essentially the same thing in his book "Alien Nation". In 2003, Samuel Huntington, better known for his book "Clash of Civilizations", published an anti-immigrant polemic: "Who Are We"? That book argued that "We" are essentially white and Protestant, and emphatically not Hispanic. Former third party presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan has been writing something similar (except for being more friendly to white Catholics) for many years.
When a country adopts this kind of xenophobic (and I am trying to be polite here) ideology as its official immigration policy, this is not without its consequences. Recently, the UK has reduced its cap on permanent immigration and has also adopted procedures for immigrant visa applications that have discouraged many non-Europeans, including both skilled professional workers and affluent visitors, from China and other countries, from coming to or trying to remain in the UK.
This has brought a furious backlash from some of the people which any country in its collective right mind would regard as among its most desirable immigrants. For example, a young Chinese chemical engineer who studied in the UK, has been working there (with authorization) and has paid substantial amounts in UK taxes, posted a furious comment on the Financial Times website claiming that her fellow Chinese professional workers were being treated like "pigs" by the British immigration authorities. One can only imagine what the effect will be on attitudes toward British businesses, products and individuals seeking to develop trade or contacts with the next generation of educated and influential leaders in China.
In contrast, Canada has now gained such a reputation for acceptance of diversity, that, according to another Financial Times article, politicians in all political parties are campaigning heavily in ethnic neighborhoods ("Canada's parties target big ethnic vote", April 1). The article also points out that attitudes toward immigration have hardened south of the border.
The choice ahead for America is clear. Will we, in violation of all of America's ideals and traditions, move in the direction of Britain and become a country heading toward narrowness, exclusion and isolation, or will we follow the example of Canada and reach out to the diverse world around us with the spirit of welcome and acceptance for the most qualified immigrants, wherever they may come from?
There is no doubt about which direction the Obama administration is taking us in now. We need to change course if we wish to recover not only what is best in America, but is in our best interests in the globalized world of the 21st Century.